Araminta is worrying me. I have had her three months now but far from growing comely she is looking as slight as when I got her. She was the smallest of the Light Sussex for sale that day, and having chosen her for her lovely white feathers (the others were dustbathing at the time and were rather off-white) I later realised that in opting for the one with the Persil-white glow I had in fact fallen for the smallest and had acquired more of a feather-weight hen. Light Sussex are meant to grow into big buxom ladies but I fear that Araminta may remain for ever choosing her bras from the teen section.
The fact that I am not in the garden every minute, combined with her lowly position somewhere just below the bottom of the pecking order, are I fear, major contributory factors. Araminta loves to eat – what hen doesn’t? – but unless I am around to see fair play, she often gets pushed away from the food bowls…..all four or five of them. My strategy when introducing any new hen is to put food in several locations around the garden, on the basis that the bullying hens can’t be at every food station at once. Usually, working on the equation of Number of Food Bowls = Number of Hens plus 1, ensures no fowl play at meals. But it does complicate mealtimes for us humans, and our Fairy liquid bill rockets due to all the extra feeding dishes in use.
Furthermore, some hens can be most exhilarated when in hot pursuit of a lesser hen, and the thrill of the chase may even seem more pressing than the thrill of eating their own fill. Sumo, my top hen, seems to want to have first dibs from EVERY bowl in the garden, and runs from one to the other, invariably to whichever one poor Araminta may be trying to stand invisibly next to.
I have found one solution to this, but it is very time consuming and I am sure is not to be practised widely by members of the hen-keeping fraternity (sorority?). However the top hen or hens quite enjoy it, as it reinforces their special bond with the top human. It involves spoon-feeding whatever is on offer at that meal, to whichever hen is threatening to be the food bully. This makes the top hen feel Incredibly Important, whilst buying eating time for the underling. Hence this afternoon we have just had a minute or two of offering spaghetti, layers mash and raisins on a dessert spoon to Sumo.
Meantime, Araminta has a minute or two to siphon up today’s Dish of the Day into her crop, before Sumo’s instincts to intercept the Intruder Hen from eating become too much for her. Then, much like an alcoholic near a pub, Sumo quickly gets distracted and twitchy and has to run off to get her fix. So mealtimes are like a frenetic game of rounders, with Araminta running not from post to post but round and round in circles from dish to dish, hotly pursued by deep fielder Sumo trying to stump her out.
I would really like to see all five hens happily tucking in around their lovely, sociably-sized Sainsbury’s red platter. But they don’t and I feel I need to be there to intervene – Sumo is far better behaved when I am watching her.
As for Araminta… she goes to bed the latest of any hen I have had and I believe this is largely so she can stuff her crop in blissful isolation once the others are safely tucked up in bed and she is finally queen of the Mash. At this time she eats everything she can find, until when the light is really dusky and her night blindness is about to require her to use a guide dog, she glides everso quietly up the ladder to bed….not on the roost with the others yet, but in the clearly marked “Intruder Hen Must Sleep Here” spot.